Monday, February 15, 2010

A Year Ago

Got to wondering this morning what I was doing on this day last year, and what the weather was like. So, I pulled out some journal notes from a year ago and enjoyed a little retrospection. Looking back, I can hardly call February 15, 2009 a red-letter day, or in any way noteworthy, but in small ways it did have its moments.

It was warmer and almost springlike on the 15th last year, enough so to make a walk over to the small used bookstore in neighboring Mitakadai a pleasant stretch. Managed to stay warm in only a sweater and jeans. I stumbled upon a surprise find in the bookstore, lucky to snap up an old copy of French Trademarks: The Art Deco Era. The picture here is from that book, a scanned image of an ad for rum used in Nice, France in 1931. Rum was first imported from the Caribbean, and this ad is of a native woman posed in front of tropical banana leaves. Blacks were a very popular image in European advertising of the 1920s and 30s, and there are a dozen or more beautiful designs in this book using stylized black figures. Most of them are minstrel or Sambo-like depictions, which in that era wasn’t viewed as derogatory.

This time last year I was reading Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, a book I sometimes referred to as ‘The Frozen Chosen.’ Why this odd nickname? The premise of the book is FDR’s unrealized idea to offer European Jews a homeland in Alaska. Chabon wrote his book along the lines of ‘what if…?’ How fluid and effortless his writing seems. Here is a short and ‘snappy’ quote, a father and son exchange: “Don’t take that tone with me, John Bear,” the old man snaps. “I don’t care for it.” “Tone?” Berko says, his voice stacked like a measure of musical score with a half dozen tones, a chamber ensemble of insolence, resentment, sarcasm, provocation, innocence and surprise. “Tone?” Chabon is quite the versatile writer with screenplays, children’s books, comics and newspaper serials to his credit. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is probably my favorite book of 2001.

Coming home from the walk, I stopped in Doutor for a late lunch. Distracted by the art deco book, I put my arm down on top of a hot dog slathered with mustard. Lucky I was wearing an old cotton sweater from Eddie Bauer I bought years ago. Luckier still the mustard didn’t reach the pages of my new book.

One more highlight of this day last year was the discovery of another great poem by one of my favorites, George Bilgere. The poem is what I call a dead center bulls-eye of social commentary.

“The Bridal Shower”

Perhaps, in a distant café,

four or five people are talking

with the four or five people

who are chatting on their cell phones this morning

in my favorite café.

And perhaps someone there,

someone like me, is watching them as they frown,

or smile, or shrug

at their invisible friends or lovers,

jabbing the air for emphasis.

And, like me, he misses the old days,

when talking to yourself

meant you were crazy,

back when being crazy was a big deal,

not just an acronym

or something you could take a pill for.

I liked it

when people who were talking to themselves

might actually have been talking to God

or an angel.

You respected people like that.

You didn’t want to kill them,

as I want to kill the woman at the next table

with the little blue light on her ear

who has been telling the emptiness in front of her

about her daughter’s bridal shower

in astonishing detail

for the past thirty minutes.

O person like me,

phoneless in your distant café,

I wish we could meet to discuss this,

and perhaps you would help me

murder this woman on her cell phone,

after which we could have a cup of coffee,

maybe a bagel, and talk to each other,

face to face.

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America